Climbers Rescued from a Closed Matterhorn – and Fined Heavily on the Spot

Closing the Italian side of the Matterhorn — where the iconic peak is known as Cervino — sits poorly with many climbers, both professional and amateur. Guides make most of their summer income leading clients up the 4,478m spire. And after enduring two years of lockdowns and restrictions, climbers of all stripes are itchy to attempt their long-deferred goals.

Yet conditions have been too unstable for rescuers to guarantee even their own safety. Hence the closure. Nevertheless, a few reckless climbers ignore the signs, despite high risks not just to life and limb, but to their bank accounts.

The latest transgression occurred two days ago, when a Czech and a Slovak climber ventured up the peak’s Italian normal route, the so-called Cresta del Leone (Lion’s Ridge). This follows the southwest ridge on the border between Italy and Switzerland. (You can read more about the route, which is slightly harder than the classical Hornli ridge on the Swiss side, at SummitPost.)

Somehow, the pair were unable to continue beyond the Col Felicite at 4,300m. This is the last narrow saddle before the final pitch to the summit. They called for a rescue at 6:30 pm.

A costly mistake

A helicopter picked them up and took them to Breuill-Cervinia. Here, Italian law enforcement was waiting for them. They charged the climbers not only with the entire cost of the rescue —  between 7,000 and 9,000 euros — but with a fine for ignoring the closure. This closure had been in place since August 2, after a major rockslide made the mountain just too hazardous.

Dust covers the Lion's face on Cervino's south side, as a big rockslides falls down.

The August 2 rockslide. Photo: Montagna.org

 

This is the third episode in the area this summer, reported Montagna.org. On August 13, the police fined a Polish climber rescued at 4,000m on Pic Tyndall, a shoulder of the Matterhorn. Three other Polish climbers asked for rescue but then canceled the SOS after they found shelter in the Capanna Carrel shelter (3,830m), thus dodging the fine.

Rocky Cervino rises on grassy meadows innear Cervinia, south of the peak

Cervino (the Matterhorn) from its Italian side. Photo: Shutterstock

What does “closed” mean?

As with nearby Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn is not “closed” in a practical sense. It is nearly impossible to control who approaches its flanks. In fact, some people are climbing Cervino these days and even writing about it. Temperatures in Central Europe decreased during the last half of August, and conditions have generally improved. But Italian authorities have not yet lifted the ban.

So climbers on that side of the mountain will get away with it as long as everything goes well. But if they get in trouble, they will have to face fines and will have to pay these themselves. Insurance policies will not cover incidents that occur when the insured party ignores restrictions.

The Matterhorn is open on the Swiss side

Those really willing to climb Matterhorn without breaking rules may do so from the Swiss side, which is currently open and in good shape.

“The Matterhorn reopened more than two weeks ago for guided and unguided parties, and conditions are excellent,” Swiss guide Jean Pavilliard told ExplorersWeb. “We had some new snow a few days ago but it’s still great.”

Pavilliard admitted they did have issues with rockfall and with a big crack on the trail leading to the Hörnli hut at 3,260m. The trail has been re-routed to avoid this section.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides is a college-graduated journalist specializing in high-altitude mountaineer and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.